Turk Pipkin on Building Hope in Kenya, one dollar and school at a time
“It all started with a tree, and it grew into a giant school complex, and 7,000 trees.”
Film director, actor, writer, philanthropist, modern renaissance man Turk Pipkin found himself planting that tree in Kenya while working on a documentary film trilogy dedicated to educating American children about global issues.
His Nobelity Project films focus on making the world a little smaller in order to share it and find solutions to global problems. Building Hope, Pipkin’s final film in the trilogy, documents the six-year process of building a high school in one of the worlds poorest places—Mahiga, Kenya.
Pipkin’s plan was to produce interesting documentaries in order to raise money for his non-profit educational efforts, The Kenya Schools Fund and the Nobelity in Schools program here in the U.S.It’s an uplifting film that celebrates the human spirit while educating us about how we are much more alike than different.
“We started as an education non-profit," explains Pipkin. "Our goal is to make films and sell them commercially to fund our non-profit. We want to take the messages about these global problems and solutions and connect them to kids in school.”
Back to that tree—Pipkin asked some basic questions about the tree planting effort and the answers became less about trees, and more about people.
It occurred to me that these kids must have somewhere they go to high school. That’s when I learned that no, these kids don’t go to high school because there’s no high school for them to go to.
“There wasn’t any water around to water the trees and then I asked, ‘Well wait a minute, what do the kids drink when they’re at school?’ These kids are walking a mile and a half and carrying water back in buckets.”
What they needed was a water system, so Pipkin raised the money and built one. That project led to a flood of ideas rolling into the small Kenyan town of Mahiga.
“Tree, water system, then we needed electricity to purify the water, so when we brought in electricity then we could have a computer lab [for a school]. And that was the point when we were working and it occurred to me that these kids must have somewhere they go to high school. That’s when I learned that no, these kids don’t go to high school because there’s no high school for them to go to.”
And right then and there the six-year project to build Mahiga Hope High School in Kenya began. As with everything Turk Pipkin does though, this story is bigger than that.
“When you learn what the world is like, good and bad—and there’s a lot of good things that go on in these communities, too—you can’t unlearn it.”
Pipkin dedicated six years of his life to teaching that lesson. His film, Building Hope, about the construction of Mahiga Hope, premiered at SXSW last April, winning the Lone Star audience award. Since then he sold out a week-long run at Violet Crown, and is now garnering rave reviews on the Film Festival circuit—Maui, Aspen, San Diego, Nairobi, Napa—and that’s the problem; documentaries don’t get widespread distribution, so if you don’t live in one of those towns, or if you’re in Austin and missed it, you won’t see the film.
Here enters Kickstarter. Pipkin needed a new way to introduce the film to new audiences, so he wrote a book about the Mahiga Hope High School effort, and he’s releasing the film on DVD.
But only if he can raise the $25,000 to publish it.
Kickstarter created the opportunity to raise that money. It works like this—anyone can publish their idea or fundraiser on Kickstarter and ask for money. You are the funder. You can decide what ideas have merit and deserve your money. If the project reaches its financial goals, you make the donation and the project gets done. If the goal is not reached, no one pays, and the project must either die, or find alternative funding.
Pipkin needed a minimum of $25,000 to publish the book and DVD. If he didn’t raise the money, the project wouldn’t be published. Within three weeks, he had $30,000—and people are still giving. The Kickstarter project is open until October 27th, and the money raised will go to his education work here in the U.S. and in Kenya.
“The film is paid for and the high school is paid for. Selling the books with the DVD funds our education work in Kenya, which is the Kenya Schools Fund and back here it funds our education work, [Nobelity in Schools,] with teachers and students in the U.S.”
Today Pipkin boasts 150,000 American students learn the message from 1500 teachers across the U.S., and he has at least nine other Kenyan school projects in various stages of construction.
“The film shows kids in the U.S. what the world looks like. These Kenyan kids live in poverty but they smile a lot. They can’t wait to get to school; they can’t wait to get to basketball practice and can’t wait to get to the library to study. Kids here have something to learn from them and their perspective.”
So do most of us.
You can still donate to the “Building Hope” Kickstarter project. Money raised goes to the Kenya School Fund and the Nobelity in Schools program. The minimum donation is $10.